In a county surrounded by ocean, there are plenty of places to enjoy a tipple by the waves as the sun goes down. Arguably the coolest of these is the legendary Blue Bar in Porthtowan, where rolling surf and cracking sunsets are the backdrop to drinking, dining, live music and comedy nights. Also vying for the honour of Cornwall’s best beach bar is The Watering Hole in Perranporth, where you can chill out surfside for the sunset, fight the seagulls for your fish and chips, then dance until the early hours to top British bands and DJs. Newer on the scene is the trendy Surf Den here you can catch DJ sets and live music in a scenic setting at the water’s edge.
If it’s rolling surf and rocking nightlife you’re after, Newquay is well-endowed with lively bars and clubs lined-up beside some world-class surfing beaches. Boogie the night away at the Silent Disco at Fistral Beach Bar, or sip cocktails in the buzzing Chy Bar before the ambience ramps up and neighbouring Koola club spins dance music into the early hours. If you’re looking for somewhere a little more sophisticated, seek out the hip Tom Thumb speak easy, where expert mixologists serve premium cocktails and hold master-classes and tasting sessions. For cocktails bang on the beach, head for the newly-opened Colonial at Tolcarne Beach, where you can sip a mojito or tuck into a slap-up seafood meal while watching bodyboarders tuck into the famous ‘Wedge’ surf break.
Not far out of town, a scenic walk along the valley from wave-pounded Mawgan Porth, you can find one of North Cornwall’s coolest bars tucked in the bohemian setting of a renovated barn. Retorrick Mill, also home to Scott and Babs Wood Fired Food, is the sort of place where you can start the evening with a finger-licking candle-lit dinner and end up dancing on the tables to a full-throttle funk band.
If you prefer a more serene setting for a sundowner, you don’t have to stray far from the bright lights of Newquay. Perched on Pentire Headland, at the southern end of Fistral Beach, take a seat on the terrace or warm your cockles by the fire at the Lewinnick Lodge. This revamped 18th-century cottage has posed as a smugglers’ den and a lobster hold, and is a sublime spot to see the sunset over the swarms of surfers on Fistral Beach. However, if you are prepared to explore further off the beaten track, wind up The Atlantic Highway to Trebarwith Strand (near Port Isaac), where you can sip local ales while looking out to the rugged coastline from The Port William.
If it’s rolling surf and rocking nightlife you’re after, Newquay is well-endowed with lively bars and clubs lined-up beside some world-class surfing beaches
Although you don’t get the breath-taking sunset on the south coast, there are plenty of cool hangouts where you can still enjoy beach views. Lounge on the decking at the Gylly Beach Café in Falmouth, where there are also regular music nights with tunes spilling out onto the sand. At the Godolphin Arms in Marazion you can sip fine wines and local lagers while you drool over Mounts Bay and St Michael’s Mount, and since the addition of a huge glass-fronted extension, you don’t have to rely on blue skies to soak up the scenery. Skip along the south coast to surfy Praa Sands and follow the footprints from the beach into the trendy Sand Bar, where you can clap eyes on jaw-dropping views from the decking or through the long-drop windows.
For music fans who want to dance with their toes in the sand, there is nowhere like Cornwall for its diversity of beachside beats and festivals with international headliners. Lusty Glaze, on the outskirts of Newquay, hosts a series of Sundowner Sessions throughout summer, where you can catch big names such as Razorlight, The Kooks and Morcheeba. Come winter the live music heads inside Lusty’s beach bar for cosy woodburner sessions featuring some of Cornwall’s much-loved acoustic acts. The Eden Sessions, at the world-famous Eden Project, are another annual highlight, attracting international superstars like Blondie, Björk and Massive Attack.
If it’s big name acts and surfside action you’re seeking, the main event in Cornwall’s festival calendar is Boardmasters – Europe’s biggest surf, skate and music festival. By day watch a world-class surfing competition, then by night rock out to headliners such as The Chemical Brothers, Jamiroquai and Stormzy. Fast growing in popularity is a smaller, newer surfy fest – Perranporth’s Tunes in the Dunes – where Primal Scream and KT Tunstall have taken to the stage.
Not all festivals are focused on partying all night – there are plenty of unique events that twist family-friendly entertainment into the programme. The newest of these is the Great Estate Festival, held in the picturesque grounds of Scorrier House and described as a ‘the most rambunctious garden fête’. What with high tops, camel racing, hot air balloon rides and a silent disco in the woods, it’s a riot of family fun that spins throughout the day and night.
For music fans who want to dance with their toes in the sand, there is nowhere like Cornwall for its diversity of beachside beats and festivals with international headliners
Cornwall’s most established garden party with a twist is the Port Eliot Festival – a quirky, fun and creative gathering on the banks of the Tamar, where you can rub shoulders with literary stars, rock stars and foodie wizards, enjoy outdoor cinema, go wild swimming or let your hair down and dance. A much smaller affair is the Rock Oyster Festival, which lures foodies and music fans to a summer party beside the Camel Estuary. Meanwhile the Little Orchard Cyder And Music Festival is not only big on cider and sea shanties, but also hosts some of the best music bands emerging in the UK.
Of course, after an active day at the beach or visiting Cornwall’s cultural gems, you might prefer to give the party life a miss and hunker down by the fire in a cosy inn with a pint of local ale for company.
Enveloped in the romantic landscape of the Helford Passage, the 300-year-old Ferryboat Inn is one of the most atmospheric waterside pubs to sip locally-brewed beers, dine on farm-to-fork food and watch the boats putter to and fro on the estuary. Equally alluring is the Pandora Inn, tucked away on Restronguet Creek along the River Fal, where you can arrive by boat or road and take a seat on the pontoon – crabbing line in one hand, pint in the other – or find a cosy nook inside the historic 13th-century inn and peek out at the view.
If you like a drinking hole with a bit of history, there are plenty in Cornwall to choose from. The Old Inn & Restaurant in St Breward is Cornwall’s highest inn and has been a meeting place for travellers crossing Bodmin Moor since the 11th century, when it provided shelter for monks building the neighbouring church. The 12th-century Victoria Inn, in Perranuthnoe, is one of the oldest pubs in the county, where you can kick back by the log fire or tuck into award-winning food cooked by a Raymond-Blanc trained chef.
Enveloped in the romantic landscape of the Helford Passage, the 300-year-old Ferryboat Inn is one of the most atmospheric waterside pubs to sip locally-brewed beers, dine on farm-to-fork food and watch the boats putter to and fro on the estuary
Another of Cornwall’s oldest pubs is the iconic Sloop Inn in St Ives, which opened its doors in 1312. Take a seat on one of the benches spilling out to the harbour, or find a pew under the low beams and sip one of the cask ales. Hike 10 kilometres along the South West Coast Path and you’ll deserve a pint of real ale under the low granite ceilings at the Tinners Arms in Zennor – a place that DH Lawrence once called home and an idyllic 13th-century inn far from the trappings of modern life. The Old Success Inn, nudging the pearly sands of Sennen Cove, harks back to the 17th century when fishermen came here to share the profits from their catch. Amidst the sepia prints and nautical memorabilia, these days’ it’s coast path hikers, beach goers, dog walkers and surfers that huddle around the bar to fuel up on hearty pub food and St Austell Brewery beers.
Like much of Cornwall, many of the pubs have had a makeover to meet the demands of modern-day tourists. One of Falmouth’s most historic pubs, the quayside Chainlocker, has recently re-opened after a multi-million pound makeover, moving the bar and restaurant to the upper level so you can really make the most of the harbour views. A lick of contemporary style hasn’t detracted from the traditional core of The Driftwood Spars in Trevaunance Cove, where exposed beams, log fires and an onsite microbrewery make this one of the most popular places to eat and drink in St Agnes. Similarly, the Queen’s Hotel in St Ives transformed itself from a local boozer to a stylish gastro pub, now bedecked in Cornish art, vintage furniture and comfy sofas, and serving cask ales and fine wines alongside gourmet food sourced from Cornwall’s farms and fishermen.
Perhaps the finest example of a drinking den that marries the rustic Cornish lifestyle, chic style and sheer good taste is the Gurnard’s Head, hidden off the beaten track between St Ives and Land’s End. Whether you stomp straight off the coast path with a dog in tow, or arrive in convoy with family and friends, you’ll feel at home in this friendly inn on the cliffs of West Cornwall. You’ll find Cornish ales on tap, plenty of unusual wines and an upmarket menu packed with fish, game and other produce plucked from the surrounding coast and countryside. You can even stay over and rest your head if you drink too much to get home from the ends-of-the-earth location.